is by no means the first time when a party offered freebies
to the unsuspecting and hapless poor. Most candidates habitually
offer money and liquor for vote. And since the early 1970's
politicians perfected the art of using public money as inducement
for vote. Ostensibly, all these promises are intended to
eliminate poverty. But the gullible poor remain as vote-banks,
and no significant dent is made in poverty.
Garibi Hatao politics of 1970's and the populist policies
of NTR and MGR are good illustrations of the poor becoming
an assured vote bank, even as their condition remains largely
unaltered. The absurd campaign of Devilal in Haryana in
1987 marked a new low, when he promised to give irrigation
water without 'depleting the power in it' as opposed to
Congress which generated hydro-electricity before allowing
it to flow into irrigation canals! Devilal again hit headlines
in 1989 by promising to write off farm loans. The loan waiver
was eventually implemented by VP Singh government in 1990.
The credit system suffered irreparable damage, and farmers
continued to be in distress after the loan waiver.
of free electricity has dominated our electoral landscape
for long. Several states resorted to this, including the
present Congress government in Andhra Pradesh. Farmers continue
to pay huge bribes for new connections or services, power
supply is erratic, and utilities suffer serious losses at
great cost to the tax payer. And yet, the cynical governments
resorting to such short-term ploys reap rich political dividends.
all these pale into insignificance in the face of the brazen
promise of DMK in Tamil Nadu to give colour televisions.
By this reckless promise, the sovereign voters are converted
into mendicants. The tragic death of several poor women
while distributing free sarees in Lucknow in 2004 forever
reminds us how the voter has been reduced to a beggar. But
Mr Karunanidhi now seeks to institutionalize such mendicancy.
In such political calculations, people are not human beings
with dreams and aspirations, and dignity and pride. They
are reduced to being voters whose compliance is necessary
for the power of a few manipulators.
poll promises are always made with an eye on the votes,
what is wrong with Mr Karunanidhi's promise? Because, this
time by offering colour TV sets, the politicians have crossed
the rubicon. Most of the subsidies and freebies offered
by parties so far can be justified on the ground that they
were meant to help fulfil potential, or prevent suffering,
or support the weak and vulnerable. But colour television
sets cannot be justified on such grounds by any stretch
of imagination. That is why Mr Karunanidhi's election promise
has implications beyond Tamil Nadu and this election.
such a reckless electoral tactic goes unpunished or unchallenged,
who knows what tomorrow will bring? In a future election,
a party may offer free motorcycles, another will promise
refrigerators to all, and a third will give motor cars!
And why not guarantee a hundred bottles of free liquor annually
to every family? And all this, with public money. This will
certainly bankrupt the treasury. Election will go to the
highest bidder. Once such promises are honoured, nothing
much more can be done. Education may be in perilous state
denying poor children an opportunity to enlarge their horizon
and acquire skills; we may have more televisions than toilets,
and people may suffer indignity, humiliation, inconvenience
and ill health on account of public defecation; and public
health may be in shamble forcing millions into sickness
and debt trap. But once people get televisions and scooters,
the state does not have resources to do the things which
it ought to do.
lies the real tragedy. The state is ready and willing to
do what it need not, or ought not to do, at the cost of
its essential functions. Poverty is perpetuated, and millions
remain as vote banks, seeking alms and freebies which will
never improve their condition. The netas and their families
of course continue to thrive in the 'service' of the people.
The servant becomes the master, lording over people, and
the sovereign citizens become mendicants propping up the
political fortunes of a few individuals and their kith and
must stop. If the parties have any sense of shame and spirit
of public service left in them, they must come together
to put an end to this culture of mendicancy. The media,
which are busy peddling the week's sensation, must rise
above the mundaneness of daily occurrences, and mobilize
public opinion to reshape politics. The time is now, before
all parties subvert our democracy fully and public office
becomes the preserve of the highest bidder.